Ten years ago, a group of Christians in Durham, North Carolina, launched a community of hospitality in a historic neighborhood called Walltown. Since then, the Rutba House has welcomed folks who are homeless, returning home from prison and others who just need a safe place to land. Now In his new book, Strangers at My Door: A True Story of Finding Jesus in Unexpected Guests, Rutba co-founder Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove shares some of the remarkable everyday stories he’s encountered. Here we talk about why he thinks hospitality has declined in Western culture and how we can recover it.
JM: Your community, Rutba House, was inspired when you were in Baghdad during the American invasion. How so?
JWH: In the spring of 2003, we were in Baghdad with a Christian peacemaker delegation. Outside of a town called Rutba, a car in our caravan hit a piece of shrapnel in the road, blew its tire, and careened into the side ditch. Three of our friends split their heads open. When they stumbled out of the ditch to the roadside, they didn’t know what to do. But some Iraqis stopped, took them into their car, and drove them to a doctor in Rutba. This doctor said, “Three days ago your country bombed our hospital, but we will take care of you.” He saved our friends’ lives.
We came back to the US in 2003 telling that story, and the more I told it, the more I realized that it was the Good Samaritan story. The people who were supposed to be our enemies had saved our friends’ lives. They were the Good Iraqis, the Good Muslims. We moved to Durham, North Carolina that summer and started Rutba House as a house of hospitality to put into practice the welcome we’d received in Rutba. In many ways, the past decade of our life has been an attempt to respond faithfully to the gift of hospitality we received at Rutba.
JM: Do you think that hospitality has declined in Western culture? What can Christians do to begin recovering this discipline?